Horror on TV: Thriller 1.37 “The Grim Reaper” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)


For tonight’s episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series Thriller, we have “The Grim Reaper!”

The Grim Reaper tells the story of a mystery writer (Natalie Schaefer) who purchases a painting of the grim reaper.  She claims that she’s just bought the painting as a bit of an ironic joke but her nephew (William Shatner!) claims that the painting has a violent history.  Everyone who has owned it has died.  At first, Schaefer is dismissive of Shatner’s story.  But then, blood appears on the reaper’s scythe.

This enjoyable and fun little episode was written by Robert Bloch of Psycho fame.  It was originally broadcast on June 13th, 1961.

Enjoy!

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Short Horror Film Review: Spirits of the Dead — Toby Dammit (dir by Federico Fellini)


Directed by Federico Fellini, Toby Dammit was the third and final part of the 1968 anthology movie, Spirits of the Dead.

All three parts of Spirits of the Dead were based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  Toby Dammit was based on Never Bet The Devil Your Head.  It seems appropriate that Fellini was the only director to rename his adaptation.  While Toby Dammit may be based on Poe’s story, it’s definitely Fellini’s film.

Terrence Stamp plays Toby Dammit, a former Shakespearean actor turned dissolute film star.  As is quickly established, Toby is an alcoholic.  As we watch him stumble through this film, alternatively bitter and flamboyant, we’re reminded of the stories of other British thespians who were legendary drinkers: Oliver Reed, Trevor Howard, David Hemmings, Peter O’Toole, and others.  With his Shakespearean background, it’s tempting to assume that Toby is meant to be a stand-in for Richard Burton but he actually bears a greater resemblance to Richard Harris.

(If you’re wondering how I came to be an expert on British alcoholics, might I recommend a short but informative book called Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole & Oliver Reed.  It was written by Robert Sellers and it makes for very interesting reading.  Especially the parts about Oliver Reed.)

Toby has come to Rome, to work on a film.  He doesn’t seem to be quite sure what the film is about or what role he’ll be playing.  (Judging from what the people around him say, it appears to be a biblical epic and Toby will be playing Jesus.)  While Toby floats through the city in an alcoholic haze, sycophants and fans surround him.  While he sits in the back set of a limo, a fortune teller looks at his palm and gets a worried look on her face.  Toby doesn’t care.  He just wants to get the Ferrari that the film’s producers promised him.

The only thing that worries Toby is the little girl that he keeps seeing out of the corner of his eye.  She bounces a white ball and whenever Toby sees her, a truly evil smile cross her face.  Interestingly, Fellini always frames the girl so that, like Toby, we only seem to be seeing her out of the corner of our eye.  Is she real or is she a figment of Toby’s alcohol-addled brain?  And what are we to make of the fact that Toby’s normally noise-filled world goes silent whenever he sees the girl?

On a talk show, Toby is asked how he visualizes the devil.  He says that he doesn’t see the devil as being a demon with horns or an old man.  (Interestingly enough, that’s how Poe portrayed the Devil in the original short story.)  Instead, he sees the devil as being a little girl with a ball.

However, Toby can’t spend too much time worrying about the little girl.  He just got his Ferrari…

Toby Dammit is the only unqualified success among the three short films that make up Spirits of the Dead.  I think it helps that, unlike Roger Vadim and Louis Malle, Fellini updated Poe’s story to the 20th Century and set it in the international film world.  If Malle and Vadim both seemed detached from their segments, Fellini knew the world that he was depicting.  I imagine he certainly was acquainted with plenty of actors who were just like the brilliant but self-destructive Toby Dammit.

The images of frequently dream-like.  Everything is filmed slightly off-center, mirroring Toby’s hazy view of existence.  When he sits in his limo, the world outside looks like the ruins of some sort of apocalyptic hellscape.  When he is on a talk show or at an awards show, Toby still seems to be isolated from all of the adoring people around him.  The few times that he does talk to other people, he does so without looking at them.  In fact, the only person who seems to truly capture Toby’s attention is that little girl with the ball.

Speaking of which, it seems obvious that Toby Dammit was meant to be a bit of an homage to Fellini’s friend and fellow director, Mario Bava.  Not only is the film’s color scheme very Bavaesque but that little girl will look familiar to anyone who has ever seen Kill, Baby, Kill.

Valerio Valeri in Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby, Kill

Marina Yaru in Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit

Toby Dammit is definitely the best part of Spirits of the Dead.  It’s a true Italian horror classic.

Short Horror Film Review: Spirits of the Dead — William Wilson (dir by Louis Malle)


Directed by Louis Malle, William Wilson is the second part of the 1968 anthology film, Spirits of the Dead.  All three of the stories were adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

William Wilson is one of Poe’s best known and most highly regarded stories.  It’s also one that has been adapted into several films, perhaps most famously as the silent German film Student of Prague.  So, how did Louis Malle do when it came time to direct his own version?

Malle’s William Wilson opens with the title character (played by Alain Delon) running through the cobblestone streets of a gray city.  As we shall soon learn, the time is the early 19th century.  William Wilson is an officer in the Austrian army, assigned to an occupied Italian village.  Wilson, with blood on his head, rushes into a church, ducks into a confessional, and tells the priest that he has just murdered someone.

Wilson goes on to tell the story of not just his life but also the life of his Doppelganger, who is also named William Wilson and who is just as virtuous as the first Wilson is corrupt.  All of his life, the first William Wilson has just wanted to be evil in peace and every time, the Doppelganger has shown up and ruined things.  The Doppelganger first showed up when Wilson was a young boy and he’s proceeded to always pop up wherever Wilson may happen to go.  When the first Wilson was enrolled in medical school and wanted to dissect a village girl, his Doppelganger had to show up and stop things.  When the first Wilson beat the famous courtesan, Giuseppina (Brigitte Bardot), at cards and won the right to whip her, the Doppelganger had to show up and let everyone know that Wilson had cheated.  Is the Doppelganger real or is he just a figment of Wilson’s imagination?  Is Wilson just evil or is he crazy as well?  Wilson isn’t sure but he does know that a well-placed dagger is one way to determine the truth…

Reportedly, Malle agreed to direct William Wilson because he was trying to raise the money to direct a far more personal film, Murmer of the Heart.  As such, Malle didn’t have a personal stake in William Wilson and made several compromises to keep the film’s producer happy.  As a result, William Wilson often doesn’t make much sense.  For instance, how does Wilson go from being merely decadent to suddenly trying to dissect a living human being?  Though the idea of Wilson cheating at cards is taken straight from Poe’s original story, Brigitte Bardot’s lengthy cameo still feels out of place.

That said, Malle was a good enough director that, even if he was detached from the end result, his segment of Spirits of the Dead is always watchable.  The film’s best moments are the ones that simply study Alain Delon’s fascinating face.  Delon feels miscast as the virtuous Doppelganger (who, let’s just be honest, is kind of a prig) but he is dangerously compelling at William Wilson.  The coldness of his eyes tells us everything that we need to know about who William Wilson is.

William Wilson is technically better than the 1st part of Spirits of the Dead, Roger Vadim’s Metzengerstein, but it’s never as much fun.

Short Horror Film Review: Spirits of the Dead — Metzengerstein (dir by Roger Vadim)


First released in 1968, Spirits of the Dead is an anthology film, one in which three famous international directors (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini) each took a shot at adapting a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  By their very nature, anthology films tend to be uneven and that’s certainly the case with Spirits of the Dead.

Consider the first story in the film, Roger Vadim’s adaptation of Metzengerstein.  Vadim was best known for his visually lavish films, the majority of which starred whoever he happened to be romantically involved with at the time.  Vadim’s films were sexually charged and decadent but it was a very specific, late 60s type of decadence.  They may have seemed wild when they were first released but, seen today, his films seem rather quaint (not to mention dated).

Anyway, when Vadim was hired to shoot his part of Spirits of the Dead, he was married to Jane Fonda so, of course, she stars as Countess Frederique Metzengerstein (Jane Fonda).  That Countess Frederique is evil is obvious from the start.  In between having tastefully shot orgies, she torments her servants.  She even has one servant boy hung so that she can see if she can shoot an arrow through the rope.  (Fortunately, for the servant boy, she can.)  It’s an evil, spiritually empty life but, as can be seen in the picture above, her clothes are to die for.

(Though Metzengerstein appears to be taking place in the 19th century, everyone looks like they’ve just flown over from swinging London.  There’s a lot of miniskirts, sideburns, and tinted glasses.)

Anyway, things change for Frederique when she meets her virtuous cousin, Wilhelm.  She immediately falls into lust with him but he wants nothing to do with her and her evil ways.  (Her cousin, I might add, is played by Peter Fonda, brother of Jane.)  Upset over being rejected, Frederique sets his stables on fire.  Wilhelm dies in the inferno.

After Wilhelm’s death, a new horse suddenly appears outside of Frederique’s castle.  Convinced that Wilhelm’s spirit has inhabited it, Frederique grows obsessed with the horse.  Soon, Frederique is spending all of her time riding the horse.  With no more time to be evil, Frederique becomes less feared.

But, in the distance, there are always flames calling out to her…

So, let’s just start with the obvious.  There is a huge ick factor to be found in Metzengerstein.  Just as Frederique spends the first half of the movie in love with her cousin, Jane Fonda spends the first half of the movie pretending to be in love with Peter Fonda.  Wilhelm, of course, rejects Frederique but still, it just feels undeniably … creepy.  What’s odd is that it’s difficult to tell if Vadim was trying to make the audience uncomfortable or if this casting was just a case of Peter having some time to kill while visiting his sister and brother-in-law.  For all the attention that he pays to the film’s lush visuals, Vadim is such a detached storyteller that it’s hard to guess what his intention was.

Jane Fonda gives a good performance as the cruel Frederique but otherwise, everyone else in the film is just a part of the scenery.  That’s the thing with Metzengerstein.  It’s a gorgeous film but, ultimately, it’s all scenery that adds up to nothing.

 

 

A Movie A Day #286: The Tomb (1986, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


 Sybil Danning is top-billed in The Tomb but she only appears at the very start of the film.  She lands an airplane on a landing strip in the middle of the Egyptian desert and then gets into a gunfight with two archeologists who have robbed a tomb and are now trying to sell off the artifacts.  When one of the archeologists aims his handgun at the plane and pulls the trigger, the plane explodes.  Though Sybil survives the gun fight, that’s it for her in this movie.  Since whatever modern-day audience The Tomb may have is largely going to be made up of nostalgic Sybil Danning fanboys, most people will probably stop watching once it becomes obvious that she is never coming back.

The rest of the movie is about the archeologists selling off the artifacts to greedy collectors like Cameron Mitchell (who spend the entire movie sitting in his office).  This ticks off the ancient Egyptian princess, Nefratis (Michelle Bauer), and she sets off to kill all of the collectors, one-by-one.

Like The Awakening and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, The Tomb claims to be based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.   Actually, The Tomb is just an early Fred Olen Ray film, complete with Ray regulars like John Carradine, who gets even less screen time that Danning and Mitchell.  Like most early Ray films, it suffers due to a low budget but Ray’s enthusiastic, never-say-die spirit keeps things moving right along.  With most of the top-billed actors only appearing in a scene or two, the movie belongs to Bauer and she does the most that she can with her role, tearing apart hearts and swearing vengeance with real gusto.

One final note: during the opening credits, The Pharohs, a band that performed while wearing headresses and wrapped in banadages, performs Tutti Frutti.  That almost makes up for Sybil Danning only appearing in 3 minutes of the movie.

Halloween Havoc!: THE BLOB (Paramount 1958)


cracked rear viewer

Teenagers save the world from the outer space menace known as THE BLOB in this 1958 indie-made sci-fi classic. The stars are a 28-year-old Steve McQueen (billed here as ‘Steven’), channeling his inner James Dean and cool as ever, and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW’s  future Miss Helen, lovely Aneta Corsault. The cheaply made BLOB became a huge hit, and remains one of the best-loved sci-fi flicks of the 50’s.

After the peppy title tune “Beware the Blob!” (written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David), we find teens Steve (McQueen) and Jane (Corsault) out parking, as 50’s teens do, when a mysterious flying object crash lands in the distance. The curious kids investigate and come across an old man (veteran Olin Howland ) in the road, his hand covered with a purple gelatinous goo. The  geezer’s in obvious pain, so our young couple take him to Doc Hallen, who’s baffled as the goo creeps up the…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Danny Meets The Girls In The Shining


Today’s horror scene that I love is from 1980’s The Shining.

(As much as I loved It and regardless of King’s own opinion, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining remains the best Stephen King adaptation to date.)

I’ve seen this scene a hundred times.

It still freaks me out.